(ODD)yssey, Blog Post

The real ‘Town That Dreaded Sundown:’ A tour of Texarkana

From Sunday, July 21 through Friday, July 26, Sweetums and I drove 2,150 miles from Huntsville, Alabama, to Fort Worth, Texas, and back again. I am posting the stops in order of the trip. Most sites will be included in my upcoming Guide to Southern Oddities.

Road-Trip Stop No. 15: Texarkana

Texarkana, a town located in both Texas and Arkansas, is known largely for its unusual tourist attraction: The only post office and courthouse located in two states. It also has the unfortunate distinction of being the real “Town That Dreaded Sundown,” although the town displays no outward signs of it, other than showing the film each October.

Before we left on our trip, I found another interesting site to visit in Texarkana: The Ace of Clubs House.

The background: Texarkana’s population, in both states, is about 68,000 people. The area was settled in 1873. Oddly, Texarkana, Texas, was incorporated in 1880, nearly seven years after the Arkansas side, largely due to boundary disputes.

Famous people from the city include: Ross Perot; Mike Huckabee; Otis Williams, founding member of The Temptations; Ben Bogard, founder of the American Baptist Association; Jeff Keith, lead singer of the group Tesla; as well as numerous other musicians, NFL and pro baseball players, actors and politicians.

“Town that Dreaded Sundown” Murders

The series of murders that occurred in Texarkana in 1946 shook the city of Texarkana. In 1976, producer Charles B. Pierce, who had a hit in 1972 with the low-budget film “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” based another documentary-style film on the murders.

The real incident, dubbed by the press as the Texarkana Moonlight Murders, ended in the deaths of five people. The murderer, known as the Phantom Killer, was never caught. Four couples were attacked over a period of 10 weeks.

They were:

  • Jimmy Hollis and Mary Larey – injured but survived;
  • Richard Griffin and Polly Ann Moore – killed;
  • Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker – killed;
  • Virgil and Katie Starks – Virgil was killed; his wife Katie was seriously wounded. 

Famous Texas Ranger M.T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas was brought in to work the case but got no results.

Officers search for clues to the latest murder on Morris Lane in Texarkana, Texas. (Photo from Texarkana Daily News via Wikimedia Commons)

The main suspect was Youell Swinney, a local criminal, based on statements from his wife. He was not brought to trial because his wife refused to testify against him. He died in 1994. In 1946, the murders eventually stopped and the incidents faded into folklore. Forty years later, Pierce, flush from the success of “Boggy Creek,” which was based on a true story in nearby Fouke, Ark., filmed “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” in Texarkana. The film about a crazed killer of young couples – which starred Dawn Wells, best known as Maryann from “Gilligan’s Island” – claimed “only the names have been changed” but in reality, the film included lots of fabricated material. Local residents and officials were unhappy with Pierce’s portrayal. Reportedly, he spent about $400,000 making the film and grossed about $5 million.

The Post Office that Straddles Two States

The U.S. Post Office and Federal Courthouse in Texarkana is reportedly the only government building to straddle and serve two states. Visitors come to take photos with the sign, as well as stand on a map etched in front of the courthouse that allows you to stand with one foot in each state. Officials have also added a fountain that is located in two states, which makes a nice photo opp.

This building was constructed in 1931 and is the most visible in town. The Art Deco influences are more evident inside the building.

The Post Office and Federal Building in Texarkana. It straddles the Texas-Arkansas state line. (Photo by Wil Elrick| Permission Required)

The Ace of Clubs House

We didn’t get to tour this home, now a house museum, because it was closed on the day we went. It is famous for the shape in which it was built, which is more obvious if seen from above.

It is called the Ace of Clubs House, also known as the Draughon–Moore House, because it is built in the shape of a playing-card club with three octagon-shaped wings and a rectangular wing. It was built in 1885 by James Draughon and, according to local lore, it was built in this shape of a club because he won the $10,000 needed to build it in a game of poker with an ace of clubs. Draughon was an early mayor of Texarkana.

The two-story home has a 20-foot tower and a spiral staircase. It was restored and made into a museum and rental venue in 1987. It has been featured on the HGTV show “Christmas Castles” and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Ace of Clubs House from above. (Courtesy of Draughon-Moore Collection Curator, Melissa A. Nesbitt)
The Post Office and Federal Building in Texarkana. It straddles the Texas-Arkansas state line. (Photo by Wil Elrick| Permission Required)
Sweetums and me outside the Texrakana Post Office and Federal Building. We’re standing in different states.(Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
The Art Deco interior of the Texrakana federal building. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
The Art Deco interior of the Texrakana federal building’s courtroom. (Carol Highsmith | Library of Congress)
The Art Deco interior of the Texrakana federal building. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
The Texrakana Post Office and Federal Building. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
A fountain straddling two states outside the Texrakana Post Office and Federal Building. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Walkway outside the Texrakana Post Office and Federal Building. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Sign at the Texrakana Post Office and Federal Building. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Walkway outside the Texrakana Post Office and Federal Building. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
A street scene in downtown Texarkana. (Photo by Kelly Kazek | Permission Required)
Memorial to John F. Kennedy, who gave a speech in Texarkana before heading to Dallas, where he was assassinated. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Memorial to John F. Kennedy, who gave a speech in Texarkana before heading to Dallas, where he was assassinated. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Confederate monument in Texarkana. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Confederate monument in Texarkana. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
Marker at the Ace of Clubs House in Texarkana. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
The Ace of Clubs House in Texarkana. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
The Ace of Clubs House in Texarkana. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)
The Ace of Clubs House in Texarkana. (Photo by Wil Elrick | Permission Required)

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